Monday, June 27, 2016
When Secession Calls
To some, the European Union seems fully capable of unraveling as powerful factions within some member-states, most recently the United Kingdom with its Brexit referendum, threaten to pull out. It’s allowed in the Treaty on the European Union. Article 50 of that treaty provides: "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements." On June 24th, the votes were tallied, and the U.K. voted to leave the E.U…. by the slimmest of margins. Global markets plummeted as did the euro and the pound. Can the EU fix itself? But that’s Europe. Could a unilateral secession happen here?
Many believe that two former sovereign nations, Hawaii (then a kingdom) and Texas (then a republic), preserved a unilateral right to secede from the United States. There have always been sizeable factions in Texas trying to separate from the Union. Hawaii… not so much. Texans have a reputation of iconoclasm, a “we’re bigger than the rest” and “proudly independent and different.”
“The largest group agitating for secession is the Texas Nationalist Movement, which has been promoting its own version of Brexit, called Texit, over the past several weeks. The group has taken inspiration from the pro-exit campaign in Britain, noting that the two movements share many of the same principles. Daniel Miller, president of the TNM, told Australian website news.com.au, ‘The vast majority of the laws, rules and regulations that affect the people of Texas are created by the political class or unelected bureaucrats in Washington’ — a sentiment which echoes the arguments made by the British Leave campaign…
“Following the announcement, the group's official Facebook page, which has over 200,000 followers, updated its cover photo to the Texas flag overlaid by the hashtag #TEXIT in big, bold letters.” AOL.com, June 24th. Secessionist Miller has, on more than one past occasion, gathered signatures from fellow Texans to pull Texas out of the U.S. “After the Supreme Court's 5-3 decision to strike down parts of Texas's restrictive abortion laws on [June 27th], familiar calls for the state to secede from the union spiked…
“For Texans who resented the Supreme Court's decisions taking precedence over their own courts' and lawmakers', or for anti-choice Texans who disagreed with the Supreme Court making it easier for their neighbors to have access to abortions as promised in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, this was just another reason to leave America for good.” AOL.com, June 27th.
States’ rights, guns and a strong revulsion for federal social programs have been hallmarks of a state that registers bright red in recent elections, despite a growing more liberal Hispanic community that so far has been contained (along with very liberal Austin) with successful gerrymandering. Although demographics are changing, Texas still represents a pioneering, go-it-alone-and-leave-me-alone state with deep rural, Evangelical values. But can Texas express its frustration against a new national urban value system that is pulling the federal government into a pro-urban, seeming anti-rural more central government that drives old world Texans nuts… with a unilateral vote to secede?
“No state, however frustrated some of its citizens may be with the present state of government in America, is going to be able to leave the Union and go its own way. That is one of the most firmly settled issues on the meaning of the Constitution. If the Civil War did not settle it on the battlefield, and it almost certainly did, the U.S. Supreme Court put it completely to rest constitutionally, 143 years ago. And it did so in a case involving the state where the idea of secession now seems to be attracting the biggest public following: Texas…
“Texas did attempt to leave the Union, on February 1, 1861, when a special convention called for that purpose approved an ‘Ordinance of Secession.’ It thus aligned itself with the Confederate States of America, and supplied troops to fight with rebel forces.
“After the Civil War ended, a dispute over bonds issued in Texas during that war went to the Supreme Court in the case of Texas v. White. The decision that resulted established a constitutional principle of Union that has never been seriously questioned since: Texas, and the other states that had attempted secession, had never left the Union, because they could not, the Court concluded.
“Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase wrote: ‘When Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the state. The Act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final.’” ConstitutionalCenter.org, November 15, 2012.
Meanwhile, the shudders roiling through the European Union share a commonality with the parallel emotional reaction of conservative America. The June 22nd BBC.com explains: “While Washington and [EU capital] Brussels may not have much in common geographically or culturally, they are united in the derision often directed their way.
“The governments in Washington and Brussels have sweeping powers to issue regulations on things like the environment, immigration, trade and commerce - which has led to resentment and distrust from those who view their power as illegitimate or overreaching.
“US conservatives regularly campaign against Washington bureaucrats and big-government politicians who impose their legislative priorities on the states. While he was running for president last year, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker called the capital city area 68 square miles surrounded by reality.’… Meanwhile Brussels is a ‘job-destroying machine’ full of arrogant elites, according to pro-Brexit MP Michael Gove.
“It's not easy being a political punching bag, but it's the burden both cities have to bear… Both the US and the EU have their share of peoples with distinct regional identities that make playing nice with a strong central government a bit of a stretch… [But in many ways, the U.S. and the E.U. are very different.]
“OK, so Germany doesn't exactly shoulder the burden for Greece the way California does for Mississippi - and that's because the social safety net in the US is cohesive in a way that it isn't in Europe, where each country has its own system.
“In the US Social Security retirement benefits for its citizens are the same whether they live in Kansas or Florida. Qualifications for Medicaid health benefits and other aid for the poor are roughly similar and shouldered in large part by the federal government.
“‘German citizens don't really see why they should fund the early retirement of Greeks, and Greeks don't really see why Germans should set tax and labour market rules in their country,’ the Weekly Standard's Irwin Stelzer… ‘Texas oil workers might not want to support California surfers, but they are barely aware they are doing it.’
“In a way, the EU is more like the US under the pre-Constitution Articles of Confederation - a weak central government in which the former colonies of differing strength jockeyed for power under the constant threat of financial ruin… Out of that bungled political mess the US emerged as a cohesive state. It might have turned out differently if, say, Virginia had decided to go its own way, however.” Immigration is the current bell-cow issue, but the disconnect runs deep in both political unions.
Why is this question remotely relevant? Because, in my opinion, the growing polarization, people entrenched in the “my way or the highway” view of politics, are leading to a rather completely dysfunctional gridlock… amplified by a constitution that is the most difficult to change among any major democracy on earth. As demographics, which will be more accurately measured in the coming 2020 Census, pull the nation into greater diversity (ethnic, racial, religious and gender) and urban values, the old world of white Christian conservative values (particularly in states with a strong pioneering gun culture) are clearly unwilling to live with these changes.
Think, for example, what would happen if a growing urban consensus determined that assault weapons should be totally banned, are not protected by the Second Amendment… and had to power to implement that decision. “What would Texas do?”
When minorities and new urbanites overwhelm conservatives in coming years… when gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws can no longer contain the big demographic changes… exactly how will those old world conservatives react to preserve their cherished way of life? Begrudging acceptance as younger more tolerant voters replace older diehards? Or rebellion and resistance? There are an awful lot of guns out there. What do you think will happen? And when? Can the really U.S. fix itself?
I’m Peter Dekom, and one way or another, the United States is simply going to have to figure out how such diverse factions can truly live and function together… or prepare to let the country break apart.